The Le Mat Village Festival

To visit Le Mat village, start from Ha Noi, go along Highway N°. 1, cross Chuong Duong bridge, go to Gia Lam, follow Highway N°. 5 for about one kilometre and then turn right and cross a large paddy field.
This village and its communal house are associated with a legend: the daughter of King Ly Thai Tong (1072-1127) was on a pleasant boat cruise with her maids on the Thien Duc River (now Duong river), when a big snake, pictured in popular imagination as a devil, overturned the boat with strong winds. The crew could do nothing to protect the unfortunate princess. But a young man from Le Mat village dived into the water, fought against the devil, and finally succeeded in killing it and saving the princess.
King Ly Thai Tong was deeply impressed by the young man’s feat and rewarded him with gold and court titles. But the hero – a member of the Hoang family – graciously rejected the reward. Instead, he requested that the King allow him and a number of poor people to reclaim land in the areas lying west of Thang Long, the Royal Capital. At that time, it was surrounded by fallow land. After the King gave his assent, the young man set about rallying poor people from many parts of the country and led them reclaim the land and establish 13 prosperous and famous agricultural settlements in Thang Long.
Locals worship the young hero as the Genius of their villages. On the 23rd day of the 3rd lunar month of each year the inhabitants of the former 13 agricultural settlements flock to Le Mat village to attend the festival.
The main event of the festival is a procession of water and fish. A big pot, covered with a red square piece of cloth, is put on a palanquin. It is carried to a pond located in front of the communal house. To the rhythm of drum beats, clean water is solemnly and slowly taken from the pond with dippers and poured into the pot with the piece of red cloth acting as a filter. Thereafter, carp is caught from the pond. The biggest one is wrapped in a piece of red cloth and put on a palanquin. Then, both the pot of water and the carp are taken into the communal house for a ceremony. Thus, the water procession, the “cult” carp and the ceremony reflect the heartfelt gratitude of the local inhabitants for the Genius from the Hoang family who led their ancestors in reclaiming land and developing agriculture.
Recently, a new item has been added: the snake dance. This dance, which is rehearsed for many days prior to the festival, depicts the heroic feat performed by the young hero in fighting against, and killing the devil snake in order to save a beauty. The snake dance is related to martial arts. The snake symbolizes wild animals and reptiles in the water, all of which threatened the lives and livelihood of the Vietnamese in former days. In the dance, the snake is played by a group of young villagers. The young hero wears a reddish peasant costume colour and turban and holds an axe. He moves softly and quickly round the snake. When the opportunity arises, he pounces upon the reptile with his axe. The music band makes the performance even more lively.
The festival also provides a happy opportunity for the offspring of the settlers to meet one another, and to meet those who have come from Ha Noi.
As worthy successors of their pioneering ancestors, the inhabitants of Le Mat village are engaged not only in agricultural production but also in catching and breeding snakes. Every year they produce thousands of snakes of various kinds, which are supplied to various parts of the country and are also exported.
Everyone eagerly awaits the following spring, for the next festival.

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